The Gospel Tent Test

Upon the heels of Pentecost and having finished my first year in seminary, I’d like to lay down a bet.  If one were able to compile the recent analytics from my Facebook wall and those from the postings of my fellow students, I think a single phrase would be the winner.  That which is offered over and over again is:

“Come Holy Spirit!”

Now, the cynic might recognize that the call is often linked with a desire for inspiration in the face of completing yet another paper or for creatively tying up an awesome sermon.  Likewise, the cynic residing in the pews of an ordinary Episcopal church might claim that the Spirit does come…once a year…when we wear red…when we read that crazy scripture of the apostles speaking in various languages…and when we quickly move off into ordinary time called “summer at the lake house.”  (In Facebook, this would be followed by the smiley emoticon, you know.)

The good news though is I sense that both my fellow seminarians and those who attended the Great Awakening conference know where their permission lies to invigorate the Church and ourselves.  The permission lies in the fierce and burning presence of the Spirit.  As extraordinary, creative leaders and believers, we need to cry out again and again, “Come, come, Holy Spirit!”  The real trick that follows then is being receptive to those piercing transcendent moments when the Advocate acts.  How do we know when the Spirit is present?

As a young college student I attended the New Orleans Jazz Festival and found my way into the Gospel Tent.  I spent hours there transfixed by the soulful music, wistful that I could only tentatively tap my toes, while those around me swayed with arms upraised in joyful ecstatic embrace the Holy.  Tears streaked down my face matching those who were pulled off-stage still singing as the next group of musicians strutted into the tent sanctuary.  Oh, if only I could give such thanksgiving and praise!

Well, my call is to a different kind of liturgical action (if my toe tapping ability is any indication!); however, that day I began to understand that we are all called to devote ourselves “…to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:42).  Furthermore, I began to understand that these actions can take many forms, but the Spirit can invigorate all of them.  This then is the siren call – what I call the “Gospel Tent Test” – that quaky, shaky numinous moment when our hands are lifted up and tears are rolling down, either literally or metaphorically.  We need permission to listen for that call.  Oh, come Holy Spirit!

I have been in the Gospel Tent recently.  My partner and I were guest worshippers with an Episcopal congregation in Fort Worth, Texas.  This congregation offered prayers of reconciliation and healing to those who have left their parish home in dissention and strife over the ordination of gays and lesbians.  The promise of healing was mirrored during the Eucharist as communicants waiting in line placed hands on each other’s shoulders during prayer requests.  Tears rolled down my face seeing the power of the laying on of hands in love and hope. Come Holy Spirit!

A couple of weeks ago, the Gospel Tent was shaking during the graduation Eucharist for Bexley Hall Episcopal and Trinity Lutheran Seminaries.  The ecumenical celebration was accompanied by foot stompin’, hands a raised and hips swayin’.  With a mighty wind, the Spirit pushed out bright Lutherans and Episcopalians to be leaders and pastors in her Church — in a Call to Common Mission.  Imagine the size of the tent needed for worship when Christian sisters and brothers join together.  Come Holy Spirit!

And, finally the Gospel Tent is being raised each week on an empty corner lot in Columbus, Ohio where an Episcopal mission puts on street church every Sunday come rain or shine.  Here the weeds and debris bow down under the gentle breeze of the Spirit.  Here hungry people gather to be fed – those churched and the un-churched; those with homes and those homeless; those hopeful and those dispirited.  Here there is commitment to seeking justice for those in need.  Is the Gospel Tent big enough?  Oh, come Holy Spirit!

This is what we long for – to be reconciled and to be in communion with each other.  And the good news is that this is what God wants for us also!  Too often we are in a posture tied by inertia and tradition instead of that characterized by hopeful expectation. Perhaps we just need to ask for what we want and truly desire.  Permission granted – just say it with me:  Come Holy Spirit!

Oh, and don’t forget the rest of the Pentecost message – now it’s time to go out and do God’s work in the world.  With the Spirit, all things are possible.

–Nikki Seger, student at Bexley Hall Seminary

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